Hobby Lobby won their fight against Obamacare's contraception mandate in a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling. But the struggle over the meaning and limits of religious liberty is far from ended. - Image courtesy of Mark Fischer (http://bit.ly/1x5VUGd)

Hobby Lobby won their fight against Obamacare’s contraception mandate in a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling. But the struggle over the meaning and limits of religious liberty is far from ended. – Image courtesy of Mark Fischer (http://bit.ly/1x5VUGd)

The lawyers who represented Hobby Lobby in their legal fight against Obamacare’s contraception mandate got what they wanted–but not exactly what they expected–from the Supreme Court today. Though they did not receive the unanimous decision they hoped for, the arts and craft retailer still won their case by a margin of 5-4.

As sports fans often say following a narrow victory, “a win is a win is a win.”

But those who follow such things know the Hobby Lobby case was just one crest in a larger wave of religious freedom battles sweeping through American courts and culture. So what is next in terms of religious liberty now that the Hobby Lobby case is behind us?

1. Non-profit contraception coverage: In terms of the Supreme Court, the Little Sisters of the Poor will be next up to bat. The order of Catholic nuns with thirty homes in the United States are headlining a group of non-profit organizations challenging the contraception mandate just like Hobby Lobby did with other for-profit business. Their case is about a year behind Hobby Lobby’s, but today’s decision tilts fate in their favor.

2. Serving gay weddings: Religious conservatives suffered several blows on the gay marriage front this year. In February, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a bill that would have allowed businesses with certain religious beliefs to deny services to gay and lesbian customers. Then in April, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case of a photographer in New Mexico that denied service to a same-sex couple on the basis of religious convictions. Several other states will be considering laws similar to Arizona’s and many other cases like the New Mexican photographer are expected to arise in the months and years ahead.

3. Military chaplain discrimination: Disputes over military chaplains plague us like psoriasis. Recently, we discussed whether non-theistic chaplains should be admitted into the armed services. Evangelical Navy chaplains claimed they were discriminated against in favor of Catholics or more liturgical Protestants. And earlier this year, a federal panel discussed potential bias against military chaplains. Expect this conversation to continue.

4. Adoption and foster care: There are more than 1,000 foster care and adoption providers in the United States, and many are faith-based organizations. As marriage laws morph in many states to include same-sex couples, these organizations face a choice to compromise their beliefs by providing child services to same-sex couples or cease operations. Catholic Charities in Boston and D.C., for example, were forced to end their foster care and adoption programs. As same-sex marriage spreads across the country, the courts will likely decide if these organizations can continue to serve vulnerable children according to their religious convictions.

A 2013 Barna poll showed that 51 percent of Americans said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that religious freedom will become more restricted in the years ahead.  Evangelical protestants are the most concerned about religious freedom restrictions in the United States.

A quick look at the Civil Rights movement reminds us that religious liberties are not ultimate. Though many claimed that religious convictions prohibited them from serving minorities in their private business, the government forced integration anyway. But religious freedom can only be trumped when it is shown that there is a considerable benefit to society and the government. The tide of religious liberty stops at the shore of the common good, but in the coming years, America must decide where that shoreline should be.

20 Comments

  1. Chaplain Martin

    Jonathan Merritt
    Jonathan I have enjoyed your articles and like that you have “home” at RNS. Yes the other shoe is going to drop a bit. To quote you regarding the Little Sisters of the Poor case: “Their case is about a year behind Hobby Lobby’s, but today’s decision tilts fate in their favor. While their lawyers may try to use the Hobby Lobby’s decision I do not believe it will tilt in their favor. From most reaction to the decision, the writers in the comment section believe the decision is about Contraception but it was not about providing that it was about abortion through emergency contraception methods. Only four methods were Hobby Lobby against.

  2. Mr. Merritt – you just said on MSNBC that the “bible only applies to individuals”. You said to speak otherwise is bad theology. Really? Every page of the writings of St Paul begin with him addressing himself to an organization – its called the church. Wow – must not have had to work very hard for that MDiv.

    • Jonathan Merritt

      Rev. Steward,

      That is, in fact, NOT what I said on MSNBC. I said that the term “Christian” in the Bible is only applied to individuals. This is not an opinion, but a statement of fact.

      The direct quote from the transcript is as follows:
      “The Bible only uses the term “Christian” in one way: it applies to individuals. It doesn’t apply to governments. It doesn’t apply to corporations. So the term is theologically non-sensical–it is not actually a thing–for evangelical Christians.”

      You’re using quotation marks to quote me saying something I did not actually say. Before you post snide comments, you really should get your facts straight.

  3. Adam Schneider

    Jonathan,

    Thanks for this update. It not only seems like the religious freedom debate continues, but will become more complicated, difficult, and tenuous.

    Your last two lines were compelling:
    “But religious freedom can only be trumped when it is shown that there is a considerable benefit to society and the government. The tide of religious liberty stops at the shore of the common good, but in the coming years, America must decide where that shoreline should be.”

    When do we decide (and who decides) when the tide has been pushed out too far? What then is our response? I struggle with the proper response of the Church to a political system that denies it a voice in public policy. I think we have a long, long time until we get there. I am leaning towards an understanding that the Church is better positioned to receive the Spirit humbly and move compassionately when it is least accepted in society. If this is true, do we put up any resistance to political marginalization?

    Thanks again for your great perspectives on the issues.

    • I too agree that the tide is moving in one direction against religious liberty as has been traditionally understood. Unfortunately, our society is less religious and less knowledgeable about the Bible, and this will impact peoples notions on faith issues in society. Like you, I do think there is a case for Christians (religious right especially) to re-think what has been a confrontational approach in the political realm. More marginalization is coming, but this is not necessarily problematic for faithful followers of Christ and his teaching. Light shines brightest in the darkness.

      But this is much of the point of Jonathan’s articles on this issue. How do Christians live out their faith in the business realm, especially when they are the founders, owners, operators of businesses. I would like to hear more of Jonathans opinion on how they can live faithfully in a society and culture that is pressing them hard on these issues.

      • You want to live out your faith in public ventures like business, here is a good tip: respect the rights of others not to follow you.

        Live by example, not by coercion. Don’t expect your faith to have rule of law. If you want people to respect and take your faith seriously, give them a reason to see your acts in a positive light. Don’t abuse power and respect people to make their own personal decisions without your unwelcome input.

        Calling a company “Christian” cheapens your religious belief and ignores the whole point of incorporation. This is a win for self righteous bullying and treating religious belief as self serving excuses for bad behavior

  4. Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    There is one good thing that is coming out of Obama’s contempt for the First Amendment: From interviews I have seen on TV it is clearly bringing together Evangelicals and Catholics like myself in common cause in defense of religious liberty.

    • @Deacon,

      To you, “Religious liberty” is when one person forces another person to be religious whether they like it or not.

      And though the proper word for this is ‘Fascism’ you won’t recognize it as such until the ‘right’ religion gets all the liberty.

      Then your idiotic position will be clear.
      But then it will be too late. And the last country with true religious freedom will join the rest of the world and become just another fascist state using religion as a political weapon.

      Religion stinks.

  5. Though I am a Christian, I agree with “Atheist Max.” You cannot expect everyone to be held to Christian standards, and just ignore all other religions; that is NOT religious liberty. In fact, it sounds more like a theocracy.

    • I am also a Christian, and I agree that no other religions should be ignored; however, the problem that is starting to be incredibly prevalent in our country is that Christian beliefs and morals are being put on the backburner to every other belief of individuals in our country. Christians are being ignored and bashed for believing what we believe, and THAT is not religious liberty just as much as us forcing others to believe what we do is not religious liberty. Our country certainly is not a nation based in Christianity, but when we as Christians are then expected to drop our beliefs to cater to everyone else (i.e. organizations based on Christian morals, and run to reflect Christ, having to hire homosexual individuals that obviously ignore major parts of the faith, also these organizations being forced to provide abortifacients to women that deny babies life after conception) I, for one, am thankful that, while there may not be such a thing as a “Christian organization”, organizations run by Christian individuals are standing up for the beliefs that our faith is built firmly upon.

      • @Hunter,

        “Christians are being ignored and bashed for believing what we believe…”

        Christians are not being bashed. Pull yourself together! Good grief.

        Your religion, like all religions, is evil, immoral and a threat to civilization generally.
        It is proper to bash the religion (not people) as much as possible!

        “Faith” for example is a genuinely stupid thing.
        It is the definition of stupid to believe something for no reason.
        Your religion, then, is indeed a joke
        and it deserves absolutely no respect whatsoever.

        Religion is also particularly dangerous to the believers themselves.

        You will always have the right to believe anything you want to believe
        in the United States of America – nobody will take away that right and I fully support your right to believe in genocide and rape if that is what you want to believe in (as Jesus did) but don’t expect respect.

        Expect to be laughed at by your children though. This religious nonsense is dying off.

  6. What did we learn in the 60s and 70s about religious exceptions to government support – peace churches and christian pacifists tried “like the devil” to not support war or nuclear weaponry with their tax dollars or conscripted service. Has the tide completely changed on this?

  7. Patricia Seagrove

    What I find hard to swallow is that Hobby Lobby makes its money by selling cheap goods from China. China has enforced abortion, sterilization, and birth control. And by purchasing their store stocks from China, the Greens, I fear, provide support for these policies. How can it be otherwise? Also, they enhance their bottom line by being able to cut some benefits from the healthcare they provide their employees. The Greens would do well to consider Matthew 6:24.

  8. Joseph Styles

    Your article appears to be written from the point of view that only those on the religious right claim that government interferes with their religious freedom. But what about those of us on the religious left who have seen–who still see–restrictions on marriage equality as impinging on our religious freedom by preventing us from celebrating same-sex marriages? (And yes, I do include specifically the law suit recently filed in North Carolina–General Synod of the United Church of Christ et al. V. Cooper et al.).

    Despite the near monopolization by the religious right on public rhetoric citing religious freedom, religious freedom, as a value, can cut both ways.

  9. “Catholic Charities in Boston and D.C., for example, were forced to end their foster care and adoption programs.”

    Jonathan, please stop spreading this falsehood. They were not forced – they had to make a choice: either continue to accept funding from the government and accept same sex couples or continue to reject same sex couples and have to decline the funding. Instead, they went a third route – closing down completely and crying victim.

    Serious question – as a gay man, am I supposed to feel bad for the people who are upset that they might no longer be able to cry “religion” to legally discriminate against me?

    • I believe Jonathan meant that they were forced because the funding is what was keeping them afloat. They were being forced to deny their religious beliefs in order to stay in the business of giving children homes, which goes to show what the government’s true focus is on.

      • @Hunter,

        Shall I school you on the separation of church and state and the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution?

        Or can you manage that on your own?

    • @KT,

      Someday soon there will be fewer people
      who care about these nonsensical god claims of religion
      and that will close more churches and synagogues
      which in turn should help shut down religion somewhat.

      That alone, will end this needless discrimination.
      It is dawning on people that the philosophy of religion is just divisive
      nonsense and we must abandon it.

  10. “A quick look at the Civil Rights movement reminds us that religious liberties are not ultimate. Though many claimed that religious convictions prohibited them from serving minorities in their private business, the government forced integration anyway.”

    Am I the only one that is catching this statement as being extremely prejudice?

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